Defense Secretary James N. Mattis delivered some harsh words toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government, saying the United States “simply cannot trust” the Russian leader or officials within his government.
Speaking at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California over the weekend, Mr. Mattis told attendees that “There’s no doubt the relationship has worsened” between Washington and Moscow under the Trump White House, noting Moscow’s aggressive actions across the globe have only accelerated during the Trump administration.
“Mr. Putin is clearly a slow learner. He is not recognizing that what he is doing is actually creating an animosity against his people,” Mr. Mattis said, adding that “what we are seeing Putin do with his ripping up of international agreements … we’re dealing with someone that we simply cannot trust.”
His comments came days after Mr. Trump cancelled a bilateral meeting with Mr. Putin during the Group of 20 Summit in Argentina last week.
Mr. Trump said the decision to scrap the meeting was due to Russia’s actions in the Baltics, where Russian warships seized three Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait off the coast of the Crimea peninsula, and detained the ship’s Ukrainian crew members. Half of the 24 Ukrainian sailors detained off the captured vessels were sentenced to two months in prison for illegally entering Russian waters. Kiev, backed by Washington and a number of Western capitals, says its ships were in international waters and the attacks were unprovoked.
Administration critics, however, claim the meeting was cancelled amid news that then candidate Trump was involved in a real estate development deal in Russia, throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. Mr. Mattis declined to comment on the issue concerning Mr. Trump’s fiscal ties in Russia during his campaign run. But the former four-star general did say that Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the recent congressional midterm elections in November were still being felt.
“(Putin) tried again to muck around in our elections this last month. And we are seeing a continued effort along those lines,” Mr. Mattis said.